At the start of each new year, many people focus on resolutions or goals, in an effort to improve their lives, health or personal achievements. Among the myriad options for goals and resolutions those in the faith community often add goals for spiritual growth. I know friends that have Bible reading, Bible memory or prayer goals for 2021. I firmly believe goals for spiritual growth are necessary to avoid a stagnant spiritual life. Beyond goals, beware of how a victim mentality hinders your spiritual growth.
A lack of spiritual growth stems from various conditions and attitudes. Complacency steals in for those who enjoy long years walking with God. Weariness of suffering and hardships, apathy and a feeling of contentment with the status quo add other reasons. Beyond the status quo, a recent training I attended revealed a malignant problem we often overlook.
A very real Hinderance
I attended a training on dealing with difficult people. The training wasn’t geared to the occasional difficult person, it was geared to the chronically difficult person. Those people who make a career out of playing the victim. We all know, work or live with someone who appears to suffer from this malady. Sadly, we all suffer from a victim mentality at times. Unfortunately, there are those who do life from this mindset on a constant basis. Playing the victim as a way of life is self-destructive, alienating and the enemy of personal growth.
I found the training extremely helpful; full of great information for identifying, serving and respectfully dealing with this type of person. Afterwards as I reviewed my notes, I saw a spiritual parallel that stayed with me. Part of the training of course encouraged us to examine the tendency of slipping into a victim mentality ourselves. Understanding and recognizing this tendency in yourself helps you understand others with this problem. It also helps you correct the problem more quickly when you experience it in your own life. The shocking realization for me was identifying how often this occurred in my spiritual life.
recognizing the victim mentality
Grasping the implications of a victim mentality in every day life helped me conclude the real enemy to spiritual growth was the very same mentality. Each characteristic we discussed revealed parallels to the way we do spiritual life. The more I poured over the information, the more I understood the danger of allowing a victim mentality to become chronically present. The manner in which a victim mentality hinders spiritual growth, often goes unrecognized.
The pattern here is playing the victim gives you “power”. “Power” to feel righteously persecuted and sad, “power” to avoid responsibility and “power” to avoid dealing with emotions like anger and resentment. This “power” translates into controlling people by having them feel sorry for you. This creates a comfort zone where you take no responsibility for your behavior (because other people are always responsible). It also prevents you from dealing with uncomfortable emotions like guilt and anger.
Characteristics of a victim mentality
Let’s look at the characteristics of someone who has a victim mentality.
- Constantly blaming other people or circumstances for problems or their feeling miserable
- Have a “life is against me” philosophy
- Constant complaining, even when things go well, they find something to complain about
- Problem finders, quick to point out problems, never part of the solution
- Refuse to set goals or analyze themselves in order to improve themselves
- Have a negative view; quick to mention “why things won’t work”
- Don’t receive constructive criticism or instruction
- Everything is out of their control, therefore they are “off the hook” for results
- Everyone is better off than they are
- They have a “lack” mentality-never enough money, resources, information, time
- Wallow in self-pity, they never get a break, their suffering is worse than anyone else’s
- Hold grudges and resentment, rehearse past hurts using them as excuses for their own behavior; unforgiving
- Reject advice, they do not want to change, their problems are insurmountable
- Catastrophize and exaggerate their problems and suffering
- Make others responsible for their happiness
- Blame, attack and accuse loved ones regarding their problems
How the victim mentality hinders spiritual growth
We can see how the above characteristics affect every day life and relationships. Sadly, playing the victim initially brings attention and validation for suffering, but when allowed to become a regular way of life, it is destructive to the individual and others in their life. We can expect the same results in our spiritual life if we allow a victim mentality. Consider the way this shows up spiritually.
- Lack of responsibility for sinful behaviors. Blaming others for your sin.
- Lack of responsibility for applying scriptural commands and growing/changing
- Have a “God is against me” or “God is punishing me” philosophy
- Complaining, entitlement attitude, “expectations”
- Lack of gratitude, “it’s ok, but it should have been more, better…”
- Problem focused, negative view of God’s actions
- Refusal to examine your weaknesses with a view to improve or change
- Stiff neck, refuse instruction or correction
- Lack of responsibility for outcomes, everything outside of your control
- Jealousy/envy towards others’ blessings
- Lack mentality, God doesn’t provide “enough” (entitlement) money, resources, blessings
- Wallow in self-pity, God deals more harshly with you
- Resentful, bitter and unforgiving towards others and God
- Reject Biblical counsel, your problems are outside of Biblical solutions
- Catastrophize and exaggerate your problems and suffering
- Make God responsible for your happiness
- Blame, attack and accuse God regarding your problems
Victim mentality verses Victim Complex
Let me clarify that the discussion in this post refers to a victim mentality, which is a chosen, learned behavior and poor coping mechanism. On the other hand, a victim complex is a psychological disorder best treated with professional cognitive behavior therapy and counseling. While many of the traits for both of these behaviors overlap, they have one big difference. A victim mentality is transient, common. Everyone suffers from this mentality at one time or another and it is usually short-lived. We choose a victim mentality to gain attention or get what we want. We can “stop being a victim”.
The victim complex on the other hand is a deep-rooted, insidious behavioral pattern originating in childhood that defines a person’s way of life. A complex form of neurosis revolving around obtaining pity from people, it defines the personality. A person suffering from a victim complex , continually sees themselves as victims of people and circumstances. They have a warped self-perception which leads them to gain affection and attention from other people while simultaneously avoiding self-responsibility and blame. These people cannot simply “stop being the victim”.
A dangerous hinderance
Allowed entrance into your spiritual life, a victim mentality hinders spiritual growth, but also relational growth with others and God. Even more concerning, it gives satan a foothold in your life. If satan can keep you in a perpetual victim mentality, he distorts your view of God and His dealings in your life. This results in stunted spiritual growth and prolonged suffering.
Allowing a victim mentality in your spiritual life keeps you in the perspective of “things happening to you, rather than for you. God orchestrates circumstances and suffering in our lives for His purposes. As a victim, your negative view keeps you “arguing” with God, living in the past and feeling helpless. You never become all God designed you to be or do all He has for you to do. You live a defeated life empty of the joy and victory God as for you.
A Tale of Two Sufferings
God preserved two stories in the Bible where we can see the contrast between living as a victim and living the victorious life He intends for us to live.
Jonah, the victim-it’s all about me
In the well known story of Jonah, we see a perfect example of what playing the victim in your spiritual life looks like. Jonah was a prophet of God, and we see in Jonah 1:1, God desired to use Jonah and gave him instruction. I encourage you to read the whole story, but notice the victim mentality characteristics we find in Jonah’s story.
- Jonah argued with God. In Jonah 4:2 it tells us Jonah told God from the beginning, he knew God would not judge Nineveh because God was gracious, slow to anger and compassionate.
- Jonah held a grudge. He wanted revenge, commentators believe he saw the cruelty of the Assyrians first hand and wanted them punished not forgiven.
- He was resentful, bitter and unforgiving. His desire for God’s judgement on Nineveh revealed a heart of unforgiveness. Jonah 4 is full of resentment and bitterness both towards Nineveh and God.
- Jonah wallowed in self-pity. Throughout the book of Jonah we see this demonstrated, but especially in Jonah 2.
- Jonah was negative and complaining. Again we see this in various spots, but especially in Jonah 4.
- He catastrophized and exaggerated his problems. We see him asking God to take his life because things did not go his way.
- He made God responsible for his happiness. He expected God to do what he wanted so he could be happy.
- Jonah refused to change or take responsibility for his sin. He justified his actions and anger, without a willingness to change.
- Jonah was jealous of Nineveh’s blessings. Viewing God’s blessings on Nineveh as unjust and as belonging to him.
- He made everything about him. He became angry over a plant he had no control over, but refused to have pity on the innocent children and animals in Nineveh.
joseph, the conqueror-it’s not about me
In another well known story, we see an entirely different result to suffering in the story of Joseph. I encourage you to read the entire story in Genesis 37-50. At 17 years old, Joseph was sold as slave and taken to Egypt. We know he eventually ended up in Potipher’s house and prospered, but he was still a slave. He then suffered false accusations and landed in prison. We do not have an exact timeline for these events, but we know it was 13 long years until he was made overseer in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
The Bible does not give details into Joseph’s thoughts during this time but from his behavior we know he did not have a victim mentality. A victim mentality opposes, argues and strives with life. Joseph accepted his situation and chose to excel in each place. He did not come into Potipher’s house as overseer, he earned that position. Likewise, in the prison he earned the same position.
Notice Joseph’s characteristics in suffering below.
- Joseph submitted to hardship. He served with excellence in proper submission to authority and God. He did not use suffering as an excuse for disobedience.
- Joseph was not a complainer. In his conversations he never complains about his situation.
- He did not wallow in self-pity. Instead he was industrious and performed his tasks with excellence.
- He was not jealous/envious. He showed no jealousy when in Potipher’s house for the blessings of his master. In fact he refused to touch anything not belonging to him.
- Joseph did not exaggerate his problems. In the only reference to his situation given to us in Genesis 40:15, he merely states the bare facts. Even when brought before Pharaoh, he did not mention his own problems or suffering.
- Joseph did not make God responsible for his happiness. He chose to serve with excellence and even help others, like his fellow prisoners.
- He was not bitter, resentful or unforgiving. To the contrary, he forgave his brothers, and helped them and his entire family.
- He did not make everything about him. He demonstrates this in one of the most astonishing statements of the Bible. When his brothers fear retribution once Jacob dies, in Genesis 50:19 Joseph acknowledges his brothers meant to harm him, but that God meant all for good for the sake of saving many lives. This is a big picture mentality!
a victim mentality hinders spiritual growth
Understanding how a victim mentality hinders spiritual growth, we can examine ourselves regularly for signs of it. Learning to take responsibility for our own actions, responses and sinful behaviors nurtures maturity in our Christian walk. Carefully rooting out resentment and bitterness frees us to forgive more readily. Remembering circumstances do not happen “to us”, but “for us” opens our eyes to the bigger picture of God working in our lives.
Don’t be fooled, a victim mentality is an insidious form of pride which alienates us from God and others. Even worse, indulging in victimhood we wrongly portray God to others as weak, uncaring and vindictive. We serve an all powerful, merciful compassionate God. Jesus shatters the victim mentality; we are not helpless, but victorious through faith in Him. We are more than conquerors, and nothing can separate us from the love of God or His ultimate purpose for us.